Illegal Logging and Timber Trade

Illegal Logging and Timber Trade


Standing or living forests are essential in many regards. They act as important carbon sinks by absorbing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, thereby mitigating climate change, and in addition are essential for the livelihoods of millions of people around the world. In fact, it is estimated that there are 500 million forest-dependent people, with many more relying on forest resources to a somewhat smaller extent.[1] Clearing forests and forest land therefore not only directly contributes to climate change, but also has dire consequences for the many communities who directly or indirectly rely on forests and the many resources they provide.

Of particular concern is the high rate of deforestation that occurs as a result of illegal logging. Illegal logging is a global issue that affects most forested countries, and because of its illicit nature it is challenging to estimate the scale of illegal logging. However in-depth investigations into forestry practices from around the world, as well as research into the timber trade, all indicate that it is a substantial problem. For example, a 2004 report by Seneca Creek Associates and Wood Resources International[2] estimated that between 5 and 10% of the value of the global wood products trade was likely to have been illegally sourced. More recently, a 2010 report by Lawson and MacFual of the Chatham House[3] concluded that illegal harvesting represented 35-72% of logging in the Brazilian Amazon, 22-35% in Cameroon, 59-65% in Ghana, 40-61% in Indonesia and 14-25% in Malaysia. Extrapolating from these figures, it was estimated that more than 100 million cubic metres of timber are harvested illegally each year.  However, on a more positive note, the same study also found that illegal logging had reduced significantly between 2000 and 2009, perhaps by nearly a quarter of global illegal timber production.

Not only does illegal logging have detrimental consequences for the climate, for ecosystems and communities, it also represents a highly lucrative business for criminal gangs. According to a 2012 United Nations Environmental Programme (UNEP) report, the trade in illegally harvested timber is estimated at USD 30 billion annually. Besides depriving local communities of their livelihoods, and causing immense environmental damage, criminal gangs involved in illegal logging or the trade of illegally sources timber often engage in a multitude of other criminal activities, such as corrupting officials, money laundering, and even murder.

The wide-ranging consequences of illegal logging and the far-reaching involvement of organised crime highlight the severity of the problem, and the recognition thereof has led to a number of international and regional action in an attempt to combat such activities in forested countries.

[2] “Illegal” Logging and Global Wood Markets: The Competitive Impacts on the U.S. Wood Products Industry, Seneca Creek Associates & Wood Resources International, accessed January 9, 2015,

[3] Illegal Logging and Related Trade: Indicators of the Global Response, Chatham House, accessed January 9, 2015,

International Action

A number of notable international organisations and initiatives exist that have illegal logging and crimes related to the forestry sector either as their main focus or deal with the issue as part of one of their work themes.

The International Tropical Timber Organization (ITTO), which was established by the International Tropical Timber Agreement of 1983, “is an intergovernmental organisation promoting the conservation and sustainable management, use and trade of tropical forest resources. Its members represent about 80% of the world's tropical forests and 90% of the global tropical timber trade.”[1] One of its thematic programmes, entitled Forest Law Enforcement, Governance and Trade (TFLET), aims to improve national forest law enforcement and governance in member countries.

Similarly, the Program on Forests (PROFOR), an international, multi-donor partnership supported among others by the EU and the World Bank, has governance in the forest sector as one of its main themes. The program offers technical assistance and conducts empirical research and analyses on forest law enforcement and governance in order to enhance accountability and promote sustainable investments in the forestry sector.

INTERPOL is another major actor concerning forest-related crimes. Project LEAF (Law Enforcement Assistance for Forests), an international initiative on combating illegal logging and organised forest crimes, is led by the INTERPOL Environmental Crime Programme and the United Nations Environment Programme’s centre in Norway (UNEP GRID Arendal). The project receives financial support from the Norwegian Agency for Development Cooperation (NORAD).

According to INTERPOL, important prerequisites for the effective implementation of forest protection mechanisms are a reduction in illegal logging as well as in corruption within the forest sector through improved law enforcement. Furthermore, because of the transnational nature of crimes related to the forest sector, it is important that responses to such crimes are international and well-coordinated, which means that law enforcement agencies, such as police and customs, need to work closely together on both national and international levels.

Project LEAF provides assistance to national law enforcement agencies by collaboration and offering training. The aim is to equip officers with the necessary skills and capacities to enforce legal instruments concerning the forest sector. Additionally, Project LEAF supports the gathering, sharing and analysis of international intelligence to guide and inform international and regional operations against crimes in the forest sector.

Another important international institution and/or instrument relevant to illegal logging and forest crimes is CITES (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora). The agreement entered into force in 1975, and through international coordinated efforts, aims to ensure that trade in endangered species is sustainable and does not threaten their survival. Because some commercial timber species are listed as endangered, illegal logging and the trade in these endangered timber species is of concern for CITES, and non-compliance can result in trade sanctions.

Three of the above-mentioned organisations, World Bank, INTERPOL and CITES, joined the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) and the World Customs Organisation in 2009 to form the International Consortium on Combating Wildlife Crime (ICCWC). In 2012, the UNODC, in partnership with the other members of the ICCWC, developed a toolkit aimed at providing enforcement agencies and officials with basic guidance on a number of relevant factors concerning Wildlife and Forest Crime. The Wildlife and Forest Crime Analytical Toolkit is organised in five parts, namely 1) Legislation, 2) Enforcement, 3) Judiciary and rosecution, 4) Drivers and prevention and 5) Data and analysis.

[1] About ITTO, ITTO, accessed January 12, 2015,

Featured International Institutions

Featured International Initiatives

Featured International Instruments


    Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora
  • ITTA (2006)

    International Tropical Timber Agreement

EU Action

The European Union’s main framework policy dealing with illegal logging and associated trade is the Forest Law Enforcement Governance and Trade (FLEGT) Action Plan. The Action Plan was set out in 2003, and addresses illegal logging in the defined key regions by measures targeting both the supply and demand side. The key regions of FLEGT are Central Africa and Tropical South America and Southeast Asia – which together contain nearly 60% of the world’s forests.

The FLEGT Action Plan consists of two main parts: The EU Timber Regulation, which came into effect in March 2013, and Voluntary Partnership Agreements (VPA) between the EU and timber producing countries. Under these Agreements, only timber that has been licensed as legal will be allowed entry to the EU market.

However, the EU’s response has not been limited to legislative measures. In an attempt to increase the demand for legal and sustainably sourced timber, the EU encourages the development of procurement policies in both the private and public sector that give preference to legal timber and timber products. Concerning the public sector, it is notable that an increasing number of EU Member States, including France, Germany and the Netherlands, are adopting green procurement policies which require timber to be from legal and sustainable sources. Within the private sector, similar developments can be observed as a number of EU timber trade and retail federations and companies have committed, through Codes of Conduct, to eliminate illegally harvested timber from their supply chains. Similarly, some banks have developed policies that aim to ensure that clients are not associated with the illegal logging of timber.

Besides the above, the FLEGT Action Plan also supports capacity-building efforts concerning the forest sector, particularly in developing countries. Such support is given through the EU’s and Member States’ development cooperation instruments, which includes supporting relevant actions of NGOs and private sector institutions.

The FLEGT Action Plan has led to a number of EU legislation, including Council Regulation (EC) No 2173/2005 of 20 December 2005 on the establishment of a FLEGT licensing scheme for imports of timber into the European Community and Regulation (EU) No 995/2010 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 20 October 2010 laying down the obligations of operators who place timber and timber products on the market.

Another important development concerns the EU’s policy on Accounting and Transparency. In 2013, it was agreed to revise the EC Accounting and Transparency Directives, to introduce an obligation for large extractive and logging companies to report the payments they make to governments (the so called country by country reporting – CBCR). Reporting will be broken down by country and by project. The aim of this requirement is to improve transparency of payments to governments, and so to help civil society hold governments to account for any income from natural resource exploitation.

Featured EU Institutions

Featured EU Initiatives

Featured EU Instruments

  • EU Timber Regulation

    Regulation (EU) No 995/2010 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 20 October 2010 laying down the obligations of operators who place timber and timber products on the market
  • EU FLEGT Regulation

    Regulation (EC) No 2173/2005 of 20 December 2005 on the establishment of a FLEGT licensing scheme for imports of timber into the European Community
  • EU Regulation (EC) No 1024/2008

    Commission Regulation (EC) No 1024/2008 of 17 October 2008 laying down detailed measures for the implementation of Council Regulation (EC) No 2173/2005 on the establishment of a FLEGT licensing scheme for imports of timber into the European Community
  • EU Directive No 2013/50/EU

    Directive 2013/50/EU of the European Parliament and of the Council of 22 October 2013 amending Directive 2004/109/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council on the harmonisation of transparency requirements in relation to information about issuers whose securities are admitted to trading on a regulated market, Directive 2003/71/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council on the prospectus to be published when securities are offered to the public or admitted to trading and Commission Directive 2007/14/EC laying down detailed rules for the implementation of certain provisions of Directive 2004/109/EC

Other Action

U.S. Lacey Act[1]

The U.S. Lacey Act is an example primary legislation for wildlife preservation and forest conservation. Passed in 1900, the Lacey Act establishes that it is a federal crime to poach game in one state with the purpose of selling the bounty in another. The Act was introduced by Iowa Congressman John Lacey over a century ago, the Lacey Act and has been revised several times over the century turning it into one of the broadest and most comprehensive policies designed to combat wildlife crime.

In 2008, the U.S. Congress approved a new amendment to the Lacey Act, adding illegal logging as a federal crime. As a consequence, it created dramatic changes in the then (still) heavily unregulated global timber industry. This led to systemic shifts in the practices of importers, manufacturers, and timber companies within both the U.S. and around the world.

[1] U.S. Lacey Act, Environmental Investigation Agency, accessed October 10, 2013,

Featured Other Instrument

Role of Earth Observation

World Resource Institute: Global Forest Watch (GFW)[1]

Global Forest Watch (GFW) is a dynamic online forest monitoring and alert system that empowers people everywhere to better manage forests. For the first time, Global Forest Watch unites satellite technology, open data, and crowdsourcing to guarantee access to timely and reliable information about forests. GFW is free and follows an open data approach in putting decision-relevant information in the hands of governments, companies, NGOs, and the public.

GFW is supported by a diverse partnership of organizations that contribute data, technical capabilities, funding, and expertise. The partnership is convened by the World Resources Institute.

The EC Joint Research Center’s Forest Information System for Europe (FISE)[2]

The centre comprises a group of scientists conducting research on forests in Europe and in the world with the aim of developing a Forest Information System for Europe (FISE).  The system will include not only European information on forests, but also all the relevant information on forests at the global scale that influences forests and forestry activities in Europe. The website of the system is under development and FISE expects to make it publicly available by the end of 2014. 

Following the adoption of a European Union Forest Strategy (COM 2013 (659 final)) by the European Commission, activities in FISE are organised in four modules dealing with:

  • Forest Disturbances
  • Forest Ecosystem Services
  • Forest and the EU Bio-economy
  • Forests and climate change

[1] Global Forest Watch, World Resource Institute, accessed 13 January 2015,

[2] Forest, European Commission: Joint Research Centre, accessed 13 January 2014,


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